In a letter to Industry Minister Paradis, a coalition of Canadian organizations including the Canada Tibet Committee, is urging the Government of Canada to consider human rights within its approval process for China National Offshore Oil Corporation's takeover bid of Canadian company Nexen. A web-adapted version of the coalition's letter is provided below.
August 16, 2012
We write to you as members of the Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China, a coalition of 15 Canadian organizations dedicated to ensuring there is strong attention to human rights in Canada’s relationship with China. For over fifteen years, the coalition has regularly engaged with successive Canadian governments and parliamentarians - sharing information, raising concerns and advancing recommendations for Canadian policy. Collectively we offer a wide breadth of experience, expertise and contacts with respect to human rights in China and our organizations represent the views and concerns of hundreds of thousands of Canadians.
We are writing at this time to share our concerns and recommendations with respect to the potential takeover of Calgary-based oil company Nexen Inc. by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC). We understand that your department will carry out an assessment of whether such an acquisition of control is of “net benefit to Canada”. We understand that you will examine, as part of this assessment, the factors enumerated in section 20 of the Investment Canada Act, which include, among others, the impact of the investment on Canada's economic productivity, employment, production, levels of domestic competition, cultural policy objectives and Canada's ability to compete internationally.
In the Coalition’s view it is vital that human rights concerns be given central consideration during the foreign investment review process. That includes assessing China’s troubling general human rights record (of particular importance given that CNOOC is state-owned), CNOOC’s own human rights record, and the existing human rights policies and practices of Nexen. All of those considerations must be thoroughly and transparently taken into account during your review, with a full accounting to Canadians as to how they have been weighed.
Human rights impact assessment
Our Coalition does not take a position on whether this particular acquisition should proceed. We also take no position on the issue of investment in Canada by foreign state-owned enterprises. However, we note that Canada has a responsibility to conduct careful and independent human rights impact assessments prior to the conclusion of trade and investment agreements, and take appropriate measures to address all of the human rights concerns identified through such assessments. These measures may include limiting, qualifying or barring investment by enterprises that interfere with the enjoyment of human rights through their operations or contribute to ongoing or future human rights violations by generating sustaining revenues for highly repressive regimes.
International human rights bodies including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations human rights treaty bodies and special procedure mandate holders have all urged states to inform their trade and investment policies by a careful review and consideration of human rights concerns. According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, States and other actors "… should undertake human rights impact assessments of trade and development rules, policies and projects, both during the process of policy and project formulation as well as after a period of implementation … such assessments should be public and participatory, focus in particular on disadvantaged and vulnerable groups and highlight the differing impacts of projects and policies on men and women." (High Commissioner for Human Rights, Analytical Study of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the fundamental principle of participation and its application in the context of globalization E/CN.4/2005/41, 23 December 2004)
The Canada-China Trade and Investment Relationship
Our Coalition has long expressed concerns about the subordination of human rights to trade and investment goals in Canada’s bilateral and multilateral foreign policy with respect to China. Although Canada has frequently argued that a policy of private engagement about human rights concerns is the most constructive strategy for realizing human rights improvement there, we maintain that Canada should pursue an approach that involves both quiet engagement and public advocacy. We have also frequently underscored that a credible strategy of engagement must be accompanied by clear benchmarks and timelines against which to measure progress. We are concerned that no such benchmarks have been developed, despite the fact that this has been Canada’s approach to China for over fifteen years.
The proposed Nexen takeover comes as part of a growing wave of Chinese economic expansion, particularly with respect to the natural resource sector. After decades of preventing its companies from overseas investment, the Chinese government has permitted a dramatic increase in outward cross-border merger and acquisition activities. This situation provides countries such as Canada with more leverage when it comes to influencing the Chinese government on the human rights front.
Our Coalition has frequently stressed that Canada cannot assume that higher levels of international trade and investment will automatically result in increased respect for human rights in China and that Canada must work concretely and very specifically to ensure that human rights figure prominently and meaningfully in the expanding commercial relationship between the countries. In our view, the strong interest being shown by China in Canada’s natural resources presents an opportune occasion for Canada to more forcefully raise human rights concerns in all aspects of the country’s dealing with China.